Paint Pantry Shelves Like a Pro


In this guide you will learn how to correctly prepare wood shelves and other shelf types for painting and the best way to paint them to achieve a smooth finish.  Included are the most common questions people have about painting shelves.

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Can I paint pantry shelves?

Pantry shelves can be painted, regardless if they are wood, metal, or other materials. Choosing the right paint for your material is key to a successful pantry shelving paint project.

How to paint pantry shelves

You picked out the right paint, prepped your surfaces, and now are ready to apply the first base coat. By this time, you might be overwhelmed and decide to hire a professional. For the determined do-it-yourselfers, read on to get all the details and best tips for painting pantry shelves.

A smooth top coat starts with how you apply your primer on the pantry shelf

If you have brush strokes in the primer coat, you will have brush strokes in the top coat. This can be fixed by first painting on the primer and then rolling it with a paint roller. In addition, slowing down the dry time of the primer will result in a smoother finish. According to The Craftsman blog,"Primer... goes on thick and dries fast. This means that the paint doesn’t have time to level out and lay smooth after you brush or roll it on. Look for a slow drying primer or try adding Floetrol... to thin down the primer."

Sanding is a vital step after applying the primer coat to pantry shelves

After applying the primer and allowing it to dry, you will need to sand. By the way, if you think you can sand out the brush strokes in the primer, you can't. It might minimize them but not eliminate them. Use a finer sandpaper for this step, such as 220-grit.

Brush strokes in the top coat are minimized by applying thin and light coats of paint, choosing the right paint, the right painting tool, and the right technique (working quickly and not re-painting over wet paint). Spraying eliminates brush strokes, but you need to have the right tools. Oil-based paint leaves fewer brush strokes, but dries more slowly. Again, adding a product like Floetrol to latex paint or Penetrol to oil-based paint can slow down drying.

In this video, Paul Ricalde demonstrates how to achieve a smooth finish on cabinets without a spray gun. This technique would also apply to pantry shelves. Paul highlights how the right paint, tools, and techniques contribute to a beautiful and smooth paint job using a specially-formulated latex paint. Using this technique works great in tight spaces such as a closet pantry; if pantry shelves are removable, apply this technique while working on your shelves outside of the pantry.

In the video below, Leah, a handy woman, demonstrates on the YouTube channel #SeeJaneDrill the tools and techniques for using oil-based paint to get no brush marks. #SeeJaneDrill is the only DIY home improvement channel where a woman provides professional instruction!

How do you get the smoothest finish when painting cabinets? To get the smoothest finish when painting cabinets, the paint must be sprayed on. Commercial cabinet makers use specially formulated paint and equipment for a perfect smooth finish which can be difficult to mimic in a home environment.

How do you paint cabinets without leaving brush marks? To paint cabinets without brush marks, first apply the first base coat with a brush, and then roll with a paint roller to eliminate brush strokes. Be sure to paint end-to-end. To reduce brush strokes even more, add a conditioner into the paint, like Floetrol for latex paint or Penetrol for oil-based paint. Paint conditioner slows down drying time. According to DIY Painting Tips, "When Floetrol is added to your paint, you will easily eliminate 75-90% of your brush marks."

What type of roller gives the smoothest finish? Foam rollers are specially designed for cabinets and shelves. The foam doesn't absorb much paint, so you naturally will roll on thinner coats of paint. Rollers with a low nap will also work, but make sure they are lint-free.

Troubleshooting painting pantry shelves and cabinets

Why is paint scratching off? Paint scratches off for several reasons:

  • the surface was not cleaned thoroughly enough
  • the surface was not primed
  • latex paint was painted over a glossy or varnished surface
  • incorrect paint selection

RELATED QUESTIONS, Painting Pantry Shelves

Find out how many hours you have to wait before applying second coats of paint.

Learn about drying, curing, sticky shelves, and when is the right time to start putting things back on shelves.

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. She uses her technical background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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